Frenchwoman fired for leaving Japan during nuclear crisis sues NHK

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

A Frenchwoman dismissed by NHK filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the public broadcaster, claiming her radio announcer contract was unjustly terminated after she temporarily fled Japan at the start of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011.

Emmanuelle Bodin, who had worked for NHK more than two decades, said she received permission from a superior to leave Japan with her two daughters on March 15, 2011, following an instruction by the French government for French nationals to evacuate.

Bodin told NHK that she would be back by March 30, 2011, but was notified by a letter dated March 22, 2011, that the broadcaster was terminating her yearly contract, saying she “walked off” her job.

“In order to protect my family, I decided to temporarily leave Tokyo. . . . Prior to my departure I followed the required NHK work procedures, which included obtaining permission from my management,” Bodin said in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where she and one of her lawyers, Kazuyuki Azusawa, held a news conference.

“I have faithfully served NHK for the past 21 years. I was very proud to work for such a prestigious organization,” she said.

Bodin is seeking her job back and ¥22.17 million in damages.

She started working at NHK in 1990 as an announcer for the French section of Radio Japan. She was on a yearly contract and said NHK had renewed her contract in February 2011.

Her lawyers said provisions of the contract say NHK can terminate the deal if the employee’s inadequate work performance has no prospect for improvement or if a situation occurs in which the firm has no choice but to end the contract. NHK told Bodin that its reasons for terminating her contract were based on these provisions.

According to the lawsuit, NHK claims it canceled her contract because she called and told NHK she couldn’t come in to work in a unilateral manner and caused trouble for the company.

Bodin was scheduled to work that March 15, but she asked a colleague to cover her shift and the program was aired without problems, her lawyers said.

She also said eight other workers in her section fled Japan but all were allowed back to work.

“I don’t really know the reason why I was pinpointed like this,” Bodin said.

An NHK spokesman said other foreign contractors had notified NHK at least a day in advance, while Bodin waited until 3½ hours before her program.

Because of the turmoil in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, it was likely to be difficult to find someone to cover her shift, and Bodin, who had more than 20 years of experience, should have known how canceling out on short notice would cause serious trouble, the spokesman said.

Her lawyers also said that considering the severe situation of the Fukushima crisis at that stage, even if Bodin had really walked off the job without permission, she would deserve a chance to come back, especially because she had been a dedicated worker for many years.

The NHK spokesman refused to elaborate on this point, saying the details will be discussed in court.

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